Stephen Merchant takes centre stage – with Ricky Gervais nowhere in sight – in his new HBO series, Hello Ladies.
Straight off the back of Merchant’s stand-up tour of the same name, the series draws on similar themes, predominantly Merchant’s admittedly real-life struggles with women and dating.
Centered on an awkward, socially inept and desperately lonely Brit in LA, the story follows Stuart’s hapless attempts to find female companionship. He saw in the movies that beautiful women are in Hollywood and he wants what was promised.
The concept is not exactly original – somewhat reminiscent of the Danny Wallace ABC pilot, Awkward Situations for Men, about an awkward Brit living in the US who doesn’t quite fit in. That never got picked up.
Stuart Pritchard, a.k.a. the “creepy crawler”, objectifies women in juvenile fashion, seeing them as sex trophies to be attained.
The character is fundamentally superficial, selfish and stingy to epic degrees – there are moments shoehorned in meant to make us feel a pang of sympathy for Stuart, but these situations only serve to make you mentally hashtag: first world problems, as they occur while Stuart sits in his nice house in the Hollywood hills, with a decent job and social life.
Stuart’s opposite number, his tenant and struggling writer/actress Jessica (played by Christine Woods) is pretty bland as a character with little impact of the story arc in general unfortunately.
Jessica simply serves as a device to show us Stuart can be a decent guy and relaxed around women when he isn’t viewing them as sexual objects.
Kyle Mooney plays Rory, Stuart’s odd assistant and is sadly underused – his brief moments are little gems.
Nate Torrence and Kevin Weisman play sad sack Wade and wheel-chair bound pervert Kives respectively and get the job done, though bring very little laughs to the table.
Much like its star, the series’ focus is extremely narrow and Stuart’s constant failure to find a woman (until he inevitably does at the end, presumably with Jessica) may get a little stale.
Hopefully we’ll get to see a little more of the supporting cast in future episodes to give the story some scope.
Merchant’s performance, however, is spot-on.
The dialogue is sharp, funny and beautifully cringe-worthy – on par with anything he’s done in the past.
Music is also well used throughout and the title sequence (seen from episode 2) is clearly a love-letter to groundbreaking dramedy Moonlighting.
Overall though the concept feels ill-fitted to TV and is probably better suited to a stand-alone rom-com movie.
Merchant’s excellent performance however keeps things afloat and the scenes where awkwardness is turned up to eleven is enough to keep you coming back for more episodes.Follow @iamscottbarnett